Climate Talks in Bonn Bring Underwhelming Results

CI’s Climate Policy Director Rebecca Chacko joined fellow Conservation International (CI) staff from 10 countries in participating in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate change talks in Bonn, Germany the past two weeks.

International climate talks drew to a close Friday night in Bonn, Germany. In the second week of the conference, the talks took a constructive tone — a welcome turn of events after negotiations remained at a virtual standstill for the first four days of the meeting.

I was among those who applauded the spirit of compromise found in the outcomes of the U.N. climate negotiations in Cancun last year. But much work remains to be done to make the high-level commitments in Cancun a reality, and the Bonn meeting was a key opportunity to do so. As a four-year veteran of this process, though, I have to say that the energy levels during my first week in Bonn have been the lowest I’ve witnessed. As the Bonn talks opened, negotiators seemed to lounge in the hallways where before they were racing down corridors. The throngs of costumed “observers” engaging in song and dance had become scarce. But late last week, work got underway, and you could feel the mood change as negotiators put their noses to the grindstone.

So, let’s take a moment to turn back to our expectations and evaluate what they accomplished.

  1. Ratchet up commitments and proposed actions to reduce emissions. Unfortunately no progress was made in increasing commitments in Bonn. In fact, the situation here remains very delicate, with big question marks looming about the possibility of a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (which expires at the end of 2012) and the implications that may have for other commitments to reduce emissions.
  2. Identify sources of climate finance, including innovative sources. Country representatives put forward a number of ideas regarding possible sources of finance. However, a lot of work remains to be done to come to agreement on and mobilize financial sources at the scale necessary to meet the global climate challenge.
  3. Hammer out the details on how countries can reduce emissions from deforestation through a REDD+ framework. The decision coming out of Bonn provides a framework for further discussion but is empty of content. Countries and observers will provide written proposals, and expert meetings (financed by Norway and Australia) will enable development of critical details. A lot of work remains to be done and countries will need to engage quickly in order to make the necessary progress before COP17, the next major climate conference that will be held in Durban, South Africa.
  4. Increase commitments to support and take climate adaptation action on the ground. Negotiators took steps to identify critical tasks, including gathering information on ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation. Progress was also made on developing national adaptation plans for the poorest developing countries and the creation of a committee to deal with adaptation issues in the negotiations; however, discussions about compensation and technical support for countries dealing with impacts that are too great to adapt to were less productive, as negotiators spent considerable time debating the scope of what should be included.

Overall, not an excellent report card, but with diligent work over the coming months the UNFCCC negotiators may be able to pull a passing grade and put us all on the path towards a climate-stable world. To encourage these negotiators to push forward, we need observers who enter negotiations with a can-do approach toward engagement rather than disengagement, we need political will from all nations — and yes, we need public support voiced loudly and clearly at home for a strong international climate agreement.

Rebecca Chacko is the climate policy director in CI’s Center for Conservation in Government.

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